What lessons does the father of the Indian constitution have for Western democracies?

65 YEARS AGO DR B.R. AMBEDKAR WARNED THAT A RAMPANT INEQUALITY COULD DESTROY INDIA’S NASCENT DEMOCRACY. COULD IT DO THE SAME TO PRESENT DAY WESTERN DEMOCRACIES?

https://i0.wp.com/www.images99.com/i99/01/4349/4349.jpg

 

Yesterday would have been the 123rd birthday of the Indian Jurist and political activist Dr B.R. Ambedkar. He is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the twentieth century. Despite suffering incredible discrimination on account of being a Dalit or Untouchable, a member of the lowest caste, he became one of India’s most prominent intellectuals and the principal architect of its post-independence constitution. He also had an enormous legacy as an advocate for then end of ‘Untouchability.’

Writing for Daily News and Analysis (which is essentially India’s I), Asbah Farooqui makes an argument for Ambedkar’s continuing relevance. He points to a speech Ambedkar gave to the Constituent Assembly in 1949, on what India must do to remain a democracy. He argued it must not:

…..be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them. We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty. On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.

It seems to me that Farooqui is right to argue that this is a concern that is still relevant in modern India: a nation where politicians literally buying positive coverage from journalists is prevalent. However, it seems to me that his warnings may also be relevant to the West. Growing inequalities and declining social mobility are in many regards narrowing the difference between theoretically open societies and the one disfigured by caste hierarchies that Ambedkar was considering. There is a chilling similarity between what Ambedkar was arguing back then and the warnings of contemporary writers like Thomas Pinketty that we are seeing a self-reinforcing nexus of economic and political power. One can only imagine how horrified Ambedkar would have been by the US Supreme Court concluding that free speech protections give the super-wealthy the right to donate as much money as they wish to political campaigns, equal representation be damned.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “What lessons does the father of the Indian constitution have for Western democracies?

  1. Pingback: In a democrac civil disobedience is not ok | Matter Of Facts
  2. Pingback: In a democracy, civil disobedience is not ok | Matter Of Facts
  3. I like the constitution of india but some parts of constitution i did,nt like as the aarakshan of st obc sc

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s